Friday, April 7, 2017

Ted Heath and His Music

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Heath, Ted [George Edward] (b London, 30 March 1900; d Virginia Water, near Egham, England, 18 Nov 1969). English trombonist and bandleader. He studied tenor horn with his father before taking up trombone. After a period as a street musician (until 1922), he became a regular sideman with several prominent British dance bands, notably those of Bert Ambrose (1928-36), Sydney Lipton (1936-9), Geraldo (1939-44), and Jack Hylton.

Though not a strong jazz soloist, Heath seized the chance in 1944 to form his own band, which made regular broadcasts, gave the "Swing Sessions" concerts at the London Palladium, and soon began to tour frequently. Employing the very best section players, Heath successfully emulated the precision and versatility of such American bandleaders as Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman (American musicians were banned from performing in Britain from 1935 to 1956).

The many jazzmen who worked with him included Kenny Baker, Jack Parnell, and (consecutively) Ronnie Scott, Tommy Whittle, Danny Moss, and Don Rendell; he also commissioned such enterprising arrangers as John Dankworth, Tadd Dameron (briefly in 1949), Kenny Graham, and Bill Russo. In the mid-1950s Heath's dance band was one of the most popular in Britain; through its recordings it also gained much admiration in the USA, and in 1956 it made the first of several visits there.”
- Brian Priestley, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“TED HEATH, a dignified, dedicated Englishman, organized his beautifully rehearsed and often high-swinging outfit near the close of the Big Band Era, creating a furor with its London Palladium concerts, its regular broadcasts and its succession of outstanding recordings, which resulted during the fifties in the first and successful American tour of an English jazz band.”
- George T. Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles makes every effort to vary the focus of our postings to include features on a broad range of Jazz and its makers.

Sometimes, too, our definition of what constitutes Jazz has to be broadened to include those musicians that we don’t ordinarily classify as proponents of the music.

Such was the case with Ted Heath who I always thought of as a dance band leader until a close mate from Southend-on-Sea in Essex made the case for him as “a Jazzer” by sending me a series of Vocalion label two-fers [2 original Decca LP’s on 1 CD] highlighting the “Jazz side” of Ted Heath and His Music.

Included in this grouping were Vocalion CDLK 4124 which combined Ted Heath, Strike Up The Band and Ted Heath’s ‘Fats’ Waller Album; Vocalion CDLK 4139 which combined My Very Good Friends The Bandleaders and Ted Heath Swings in Hi-Stereo; Vocalion CDLK 4149 which combined Ted Heath Swing Session and Ted Heath Palladium Revisited; Vocalion CDLK 4153 which combined Ted Heath at the London Palladium and Ted Heath’s 100th London Palladium Concert; Vocalion CDLK 4155 which combined The Big Band Dixie Sound with Big Band Blues; Vocalion CDLK 4203 which combined Ted Heath at the London Palladium Vol. 3 and Ted Heath Final Swing Session.

Listening to this Heath dozen left me with the impression, as many critics and former sidemen have noted, that Ted Heath preferred predictable excellence to unplanned excitement, and his major contribution consisted of raising standards of musicianship rather than encouraging new developments in jazz.

But although his orchestra began as a well-trained, popular dance band, Heath added first-rate Jazz soloists and also to his credit, he would often commission arrangements from American arrangers including Tadd Dameron and Bill Russo.

It all starts with the gig, and Ted Heath made sure there were plenty of them.

By way of background, Heath was inspired by Glenn Miller and his Army Air Force Band and spoke with Miller at length about forming his own band when Miller toured Britain with the USAAF Orchestra. Heath admired the immaculate precision of the Miller ensemble and felt confident that he could emulate Miller’s success with his own orchestra.

In 1944, Heath talked Douglas Lawrence, the Dance Music Organiser for the BBC's Variety Department, into supporting a new band with a broadcasting contract. Lawrence was sceptical as Heath wanted a much larger and more jazz orientated band than anyone had seen in Britain before. This band followed the American model, and featured 5 Saxes, 4 Trombones, 4 Trumpets, Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums. The new Ted Heath Band, originally organised as a British "All Star Band" playing only radio dates, was first heard on a BBC broadcast in 1944.

In 1945, the BBC decreed that only permanent, touring bands could appear on radio. So Ted Heath and his Music was officially formed on D-Day, 1944.

In late 1945, American bandleader Toots (Tutti) Camarata came to UK as musical director for the film London Town (1946) starring comedian Sid Field. This film was intended to be Britain's first attempt to emulate the American film musicals of studios such as MGM and Camarata commissioned Heath to provide his band as the nucleus for the film's orchestra. The film was not a success.

Heath arranged a stint at the Winter Gardens at Blackpool in 1946, a Scandinavian tour, a fortnight at the London Casino with Lena Horne, and backed Ella Fitzgerald at the London Palladium.

Huge popularity quickly followed and Heath's Band and his musicians were regular Poll Winners in the Melody Maker and the NME (New Musical Express) – Britain’s leading music newspapers. Subsequently Heath was asked to perform at two Royal Command Performances in front of King George VI in 1948 and 1949.

In 1947 Heath persuaded impresario Val Parnell, uncle of the band's star drummer Jack Parnell, to allow him to hire the London Palladium for alternating Sundays for his Sunday Night Swing Sessions. The band caused a sensation and eventually played 110 Sunday concerts, ending in August 1955, consolidating the band's popular appeal from the late 1940s. These concerts allowed the band to play much more in a jazz idiom than it could in ballrooms. In addition to the Palladium Sunday night concerts the band appeared regularly at the Hammersmith Palais and toured the UK on a weekly basis.

In April 1956 Heath arranged his first American tour. This was a reciprocal agreement between Heath and Stan Kenton, who would tour Britain at the same time as Heath toured the United States. The tour was a major negotiated agreement with the British Musicians' Union and the American Federation of Musicians, which broke a 20-year union deadlock. Heath contracted to play a tour that included Nat King Cole, June Christy and the Four Freshmen that consisted of 43 concerts in 30 cities (primarily the southern states) in 31 days (7,000 miles) climaxing in a Carnegie Hall concert on 1 May 1956. At this performance, the band's instrument truck was delayed by bad weather. The instruments finally arrived just minutes before the curtain rose. The band had no time to warm up or rehearse. There were so many encore calls at the Carnegie Hall performance that Nat King Cole (who was backstage, but not on the bill) had to come out on stage and ask people to leave.

During the tour, Nat King Cole was attacked on stage in Birmingham, Alabama by a group of white segregationists. Heath was so appalled he nearly cancelled the remainder of the tour but was persuaded by Cole to continue. They remained firm friends until Cole died in 1965 and collaborated musically on many occasions. Heath later successfully toured the US again and also toured Australia and Europe.

The 1950s was the most popular period for Ted Heath and His Music during which a substantial repertoire of recordings were made. In 1958 nine albums were recorded. He became a household name throughout the UK, Europe, Australasia and the US. He won the New Musical Express Poll for Best Band/Orchestra each year from 1952 to 1961.]Heath was asked to perform at a third Royal Command Performance for King George VI in 1951, and for Elizabeth II in 1954.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre. During this period, Heath and his band appeared in several more films (following London Town) including Dance Hall (1950); It’s a Wonderful World (1956) and Jazz Beat (1960).

Ted died in 1969 after a lengthy illness.

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